Fail Forward

I recently participated in No Tosh’s Leading from the Middle cohort 2.  The big take away is just do it! (to quote Nike).  The course revolves around a design sprint. The intention is to quickly identify a problem of practice, apply some of their scaffolds to crystalize your thinking and draft an actionable next step.  Then you try it, learn from it, and try another iteration based on feedback and reflection and experience. The idea is that you need to take a step to move forward. It is better to take small steps and stumble and keep going then get held up at the start trying to create a big, perfect action plan.

Sprint #1: Identify the Cause

The first step in the design process is to identify your cause. What is important to you? What do you envision school will look like if you see your vision in practice? One way to begin to clarify your thoughts is by using the Sequential Question and Insight Diagram (SQUID).  You can do this with a thinking buddy or by yourself.  The idea is to keep asking questions until you have clarified your ides to the smallest and most succinct level.

In my initial thinking, I knew that our HS team needed a clearer way to identify students of concern to intervene early. I had done a lot of work on building MTSS frameworks in the ES and knew I needed to move that work and thinking to HS.  This was my starting point.  When working with a friend on this squid process I started with this and she asked some of the following questions:

  • Q1: Why does the HS need an MTSS framework? 
  • A1: We have no clear structure for identifying students in need of support.
  • Q2: Why is MTSS the right framework?
  • A2: It uses data to make decisions. It focuses on seeing students as they are and considering barriers to learning. It identifies challenges early to intervene.
  • Q3: Why is identifying challenges early important?
  • A3: If you see challenges early, you can address them before they become large issues
  • Etc., etc.

I eventually got to a point where I was able to identify my cause as the following: Ensure that all students are seen and the adults in their life are noticing and collaborating to understand them to celebrate their growth and respond to identified challenges quickly. 

It connects directly to our nurturing HS model and the intentional cultural shift “so that together, we foster a school culture where each member of our community feels like they belong here and can thrive as their authentic selves so that we can learn, grow and innovate together to make our world a happier and healthier place.

Sprint #2: Use it

The next step is to recruit others to your idea. You can’t do it alone.

One really helpful language scaffold for doing this was the FAB and BAF framework.  The idea is that you need to very quickly and succinctly communicate your cause and the actions you want in a way that people can understand and to which they can connect.

The frame, in either order, requires you to identify the Features, advantages, and benefits in just a couple of sentences.  

After working through some of the activities in sprint 2 individually and with the benefit of others in the synchronous learning sessions, I arrived at the following: Would you like to ensure that all of our students are seen and understood by the adults in their lives so they can celebrate their growth and respond to identified challenges quickly? Some of us are working on a framework for structuring conversations among teachers to provide space for student centered, data driven, problem resolving conversations to develop understanding and identify next steps for supporting students. Interested? If we were able to do this, students would feel a part of the community and know that there are trusted adults who understand them and are working with them to meet their needs. You in?

Sprint # 3: Take it

The last part is to reflect on your communication and collaboration styles at a personal and group level. A huge factor in success is communicating well and developing positive collaborative relationships to move the work forward. The final sprint was to communicate your project to others, including the cause, action, impact, and a reflection on the process.  

The challenge for those in Middle leadership is that you have to lead your colleagues AND the leaders “above” you. No Tosh offers some use next day strategies for middle level or any level leaders that were practical and powerful. The process of doing a design sprint with their guidance was helpful because you had critical friends in the process to hold you accountable and inspire you to keep going. I was able to draft a process for moving our MTSS framework forward in the HS. We have more work to do but these design sprints helped to quickly take a few steps forward in our journey. 

Give it a go. Fail forward!

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